Saturday, December 8, 2007

This Above alL
Comic opera in Karnataka
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

I was under the impression that Bhajan Lal of Haryana was the megastar of political nautankis, who could perform acrobatics the likes of one we had not seen in India. I have changed my opinion to give the top position in political comic operas to Deve Gowda of Karnataka. You may recall that this self-styled "humble son of a farmer" burst on the scene some decades ago, and has for a few months been our Prime Minister. He became famous for nodding off to sleep in the midst of important meetings but was wide awake if matters concerning his future and that of his son were on the agenda.

The general opinion was that he made the poorest Prime Minister of India. He decided to consolidate his hold in his home state Karnataka. He did not have a high opinion of the Congress. So he set up a party of his own — the Janata Dal (Secular).

Deve Gowda ... amusing neta
Deve Gowda ... amusing neta

It did reasonably well at the last state elections but not well enough to form a government on its own. He then made a pact with the non-secular BJP to the effect that his son will rule for the first half term, and the BJP for the second half. The BJP accepted the offer. Deve Gowda put his son in the Chief Minister’s chair and told him how to run the state.

When the time came to hand over power to the BJP, Deve Gowda changed his mind. "You are not secular", he told the BJP leaders. "You will turn Karnataka into another Gujarat. Sorry, no change". But his supporters were outnumbered.

The state was put under President’s Rule. He had not anticipated that and changed his mind again. "Okay, you run the state but you must give my son an important ministerial portfolio". President’s Rule was abrogated. The BJP netas were overjoyed. They flew into Bangalore — L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Yashwant Sinha, et al. They popped pedas in each other’s mouths. They felt they had conquered the South and soon all of Bharat will be theirs.

They chose a Chief Minister with a mouth-filling, yard-long name, hoping his rule would also be as long—Bookanakeri Siddalingappa Yeddurappa.

Deve Gowda again demanded his pound of flesh— money-spinning ministerial portfolios for his son and cronies. The BJP said: "Nothing doing". So once again Karnataka is under President’s Rule.

Look upon it as a natak and you will smile; look upon it as a tragic drama of the depths to which our politicians have sunk and you will not sleep peacefully for many nights.

Evergreen poem

Most poets and writers, though they have written volumes of poetry or prose, make their name for a very small corpus of their life’s work. Among Urdu poets the outstanding example of one who is known largely because of one poem sung and recited ever since he composed it is Hafeez Jalandhari (1900-1982). The poem entitled Abhee to main jawaan hoon ( I am still young) is in praise of youth and wine. Few people know anything else written by him. You have to hear Malika Pukharaj sing it, Zohra Sehgal or Saeed Naqvi recite it, and you will know why it has become an all-time favourite. Its words have music; it celebrates youth and libation, and pours scorn on puritanism. I had assumed that one could not catch the rhythm and flow of words in English till I read the translations of D.N. Vasu and Prof K.C. Kanda. I decided to try my hand at it. I reproduce the first half. It begins with a description of the season:

Havaa bhee khushgavaar hai;
Gulon peh bhee nikhaar hai;
Tarannum-e-hazaar hai;
Bahaar pur bahaar hai;
(Pleasant is the atmosphere;
Flowers blossom everywhere;
There is music in the air;
Its spring in all its glory here

The following lines summon saqi (wine-server), usually a comely lad, to do his duty:

Kahaan challaa hai saaqia;
Idhar to laut, idhar to aa;
Arey, yeh dekhta hai kya;
Uttha suboo, suboo uttha;
Suboo utthaa, pyaalaa bhar;
Pyaala bhar kay dey idhar;
Chaman kee simaat kar nazar;
(Saqi, where are you off to now;

Come back, come near;
Why look here and there?
Pick up the goblet and the cup;
Pick it up and fill it up;
When its full, give it to me;
Turn your gaze to the garden and see);

Samaan to deykh bekhabar;
Voh kaali kaali badliyan;
Ufaq peh to gayeen ayaan;
Voh ek hujoom-e-maikashan;
Hai sooey maikadah ravaan;
Yeh kya gumaan hai badgumaan;

Samaj naa mujh ko naatvaan;
Khayaal-e-zuhad abhee kahaan;

Abhee to main jawaan hoon;
(Think of the season, silly boy;
Dark clouds gather in the sky;
Sweeping across the heavens go;

Crowds of revellers coming along;

To the tavern in a throng;
Why are you lost in doubt?
Think not my strength has run out;

Abstinence I still disdain;
Young in heart I still remain).

Lover driver

A Lucknow-based corporate president entered his large limousine. "Ah, a new driver", he said. "What is your name?" "Aashiq, Sir". "I never call my employees by their first names. What is your surname?" "It’s Piyareylal, Sir"

(Courtesy: R. Ganguly, Tezpur)